Note: At the time of publication (Noon on Monday, March 18, 2019), I await a response from the TTC to several questions on issues raised in this article. When the responses arrive, I will update the article.
Updated March 20, 2019 at 6:40 am: The spreadsheet of major project costs has been revised to show the correct final cost for the Line 2 Platform Edge Doors project. The value under “post 2028” was correct, but the EFC originally contained the value for the Bloor-Yonge project. This change does not affect the text of the article as PEDs were cited only in that table.
The TTC’s Capital Budget and Plan exist in a summary form in reports to the TTC Board and City Council, but there is a much more detailed version commonly known as the “blue books”. These are two large binders packed with information about capital projects.
For years, I have been reading them to sniff out issues that the general reports don’t cover or acknowledge. The 2019 edition became available at the beginning of March, and as I dove into it, many questions began to fill notes especially where there are direct conflicts between materials in the books themselves, and between these details and public statements and reports. Combing through this material may look like the height of transit nerdishness, but there is a crucial underlying issue here.
Cost-cutting politicians, not to mention ambitious transit managers, think that everything can be solved with a quick takeover of ownership and decision-making responsibilities. The temptation is to appear to do much while spending as little as possible. TTC and City practices chronically understate the capital needs of the transit system, and this makes a takeover appear cheaper than it really should be. Couple that with a government and its agency, Metrolinx, where detailed, long-range spending plans never appear in public, and we have a recipe for a system that will crumble from underfunding.
I cannot help but feel that project timings and overall plans for the system have been shuffled around without a thorough review of the effects especially where related plans overlap. Indeed, some project descriptions contain text that does not match the timing implied by the annual budget allocations. TTC management is supposed to be working on consolidated plans for both major subway lines, although the one for Line 2 was promised two years ago when Andy Byford was still the CEO.
A long-standing problem with capital budgets in Toronto, and not just at the TTC, is the overriding concern with the City’s debt ceiling. Toronto sets a target that the cost of debt should not exceed 15 per cent of tax revenue. Originally this was a hard cap for each year in a ten-year projection, but major projects in the near future made this impossible to achieve. Now the target is to stay at or below the ceiling on average. With a bulge in spending, and hence an increase in debt, in the mid 2020s, debt costs go over the line and this is “fixed” only by having years at less than 15% to make the average work out.
For a capital-hungry agency like the TTC there is a problem: future projects have requirements that simply do not fit into the City’s plans. The severity of this shortfall has been understated for over a decade by three simple expedients.
- Project schedules in the budget are pushed beyond the ten-year mark where the related debt pressure would appear in City projections.
- Projects are shown “below the line” in unfunded status with a hope that revenue sources such as new subsidies from other governments will appear.
- Projects are omitted from from the budget completely.
The result is familiar to city-watchers with annual hand-wringing about the sky falling tomorrow, while somehow we manage to pay for today’s projects. In January 2019, the TTC knocked the legs out from this with the publication of a 15 year Capital Investment Plan revealing capital needs far greater than any numbers used in past projections. What had been a ten year, $9 billion plan that was roughly two-thirds funded (i.e. had known or likely monies available) went to a fifteen year, $33.5 billion plan with only one-third funded. This is just for “state of good repair”, and any system expansion sits on top.
In all of this lies a more subtle problem than simple financing. Years of shuffling projects made projected spending fit within City targets, and this served political needs to make key projects appear manageable. Overall planning, including the relationships between line items in the budget, took second place, if it was considered at all.
Capital planning requires a long-term view of the city and its transit system, and decisions made today have effects reaching more than a decade into the future. Toronto continues to suffer from delays in provision of new fleets for the surface system, including the garage space needed to hold a larger bus fleet, that go back at least to the era of Mayor Rob Ford. For years, the standard response to pleas for better transit service is that there are no buses and streetcars to provide more service, and even if we had them, we would have no place to put them. This flows directly from decisions to throttle spending.
Toronto faces the same challenge on its subway where decisions about the timing of spending, even of acknowledging the scope of requirements, limit the ability to address capacity problems.
This is a long article focusing on matters related to fleet planning, although there are related issues with infrastructure and facilities. Key points are summarized first, with details in following sections.
Line 1 Yonge-University-Spadina
Automatic train control on Line 1 is supposed to be operational by the end of 2019, but this is no longer certain. The section from Bloor to Finch is now listed as “at risk under review”, and the budget for this project extends into 2021.
Current peak service operates every 2’21” using 65 trains, 4 of which are “gap trains” used to deal with service problems.
No additional service is planned until 2021 when service will change to a total of 68 trains, 2 of which are gap trains. This means an increase from 61 to 66 regular trains, or 8%. It is possible that ATC will allow shorter running times so that these trains can provide slightly more frequent service, but this is yet to be confirmed.
A further 2 trains will be added in 2023, but this will be achieved by reducing the maintenance spare pool to 6 trains out of a fleet of 76, well below the spare factor the TTC prefers to have, and by eliminating the “capital maintenance spares”. However, the planned mid-life overhaul of the Toronto Rocket (TR) fleet ramps up in the mid-20s and will require capital spares.
In 2026 and 2028 respectively, a further 6 and 3 trains would be added, but this would require buying more trains, including additional vehicles to restore the spare ratio. The next set of new trains for Line 1 is planned for 2029-2032 for capacity improvements and for the Richmond Hill extension.
The TTC will not have enough storage space to hold additional trains planned for Line 1 unless it opens another yard. This is currently planned in Richmond Hill, but its availability depends on completion of the Yonge North Extension at least to the point where trains could operate to that new yard. An additional problem is that the Richmond Hill storage capacity was sized before the TTC fully appreciated the size of fleet required to serve both the extension and the reduction of headways from 141 to 110 seconds.
Some years ago, there was a proposal for a underground yard north between Finch and Steeles that would provide more storage capacity without an extension all the way to Richmond Hill, but this was dropped. The TTC is now dependent on the Richmond Hill extension to reach the yard it will need to house trains to expand capacity within Toronto.
Adding service to Line 1 will create congestion problems, beyond what already exists, at several stations. Bloor-Yonge is the most serious of these, but there are also issues at stations further south and at St. George. The extra service will also require improvements to the power supply to handle the extra trains. Except for Bloor-Yonge, the scope and timing of these upgrades has not been published.
The 10 Year Capital Budget includes an unfunded $5.5 billion project to address capacity problems on Line 1. The design work was to begin in 2019, but even this is not funded. Spending was to ramp up to include construction starting in 2023. That date will not be achievable if the design work does not get underway.
A separate unfunded $1 billion project specifically addresses Bloor-Yonge Station with construction tentatively budgeted for 2020-2024. The planned design (akin to the addition of a second platform at Union Station) has not yet been subject to public consultation. This will produce substantial construction disruption on nearby streets and within buildings above the station. Unlike Union, Bloor-Yonge is not entirely within the roadway, but lies under buildings on the north side of Bloor east of Yonge.
Line 2 Bloor-Danforth
The major change in plans for Line 2 is that replacement of the T1 fleet, originally targeted for the mid 2020s, has been changed to a 10 year Life Extension Overhaul with the intent of operating this fleet to a life of 40 years or more. This change was not the subject of a report to the TTC Board, and it appears to have happened during the interregnum when most of the Board members concentrated on getting re-elected. This change has pervasive effects through the capital budget, and for future capacity and service on Line 2.
The TTC does not actually know whether the overhaul is technically feasible and will achieve the hoped-for lifespan. The experience with the shortfall in the streetcar life extension is fresh for everyone, and there is no guarantee that the T1 overhaul will achieve its aims.
The projected cost is $715 million as compared to the $1.86 billion for replacement of the fleet that was included in the 2018 budget. That is $71.5 million per year for 10 added years on the T1 fleet, as against $62 million per year for a new fleet’s 30 year lifespan. The projected replacement cost rises from $1.86 to $2.27 billion thanks to inflation with the project’s deferral.
By analogy to current performance of the TR (Line 1) and T1 (Line 2) fleets, the rebuilt T1s would almost certainly not be as reliable as new trains. The TTC routinely argues that newer equipment is better and points to performance stats of the rejuvenated bus fleet, the new streetcars, and the more-recent TR subway trains as examples.
The project description for the overhaul has one glaring omission – there is no provision to retrofit Automatic Train Control to the T1 fleet. Assuming that this is even technically possible, that is a substantial expense on top of a price that is already higher than buying a new ATC-equipped fleet.
However, installation of ATC on Line 2 is planned for 2024-2029, and the Line 2 Extension (formerly called the Scarborough Subway Extension) would be built with ATC from the outset unless the TTC plans a repeat of the debacle on the Spadina extension which was originally planned with conventional signalling.
Service plans for Line 2 show minimal increase in capacity. One gap train will be added in 2019 to the 45-train service giving a total of 46 out of a fleet of 60 trains. Two trains will be added to regular service in 2024.
At that point, the TTC would still have a spare ratio for T1s of 25% with a fleet of 60 trains of which 48 were needed for peak service. The TTC has a surplus of T1 trains thanks to the decision to operate Line 1 entirely with TRs. Originally some T1s would have remained on Lines 1 and 4, but this conflicted with the ATC program.
Procurement plans show 14 new trains for Line 2 in 2026. Seven of these are included in the budget for the extension, and the other seven are net additions triggered in part by the decision to run full service through to Scarborough Town Centre rather than turning half of the service at Kennedy Station. However, there is no place to store these additional trains on Line 2 which is already bursting at the seams thanks to the transfer of the entire T1 fleet. Storage has been added at Greenwood and Keele yards, and a new storage track is planned for Kipling Station.
The City is buying property for a new yard west of Kipling Station on the TTC’s behalf, and this yard was originally planned to come into service in the mid-2020s as a home for a new Line 2 fleet of TR trains. However, the Capital Plan shows this yard being available in 2031. This delay is almost certainly due to the City having no way to actually pay the $2.27 billion cost of the new facility within the original project time frame.
There is no indication in any capital plans of when Line 2 will receive the actual benefit of full ATC operation and more frequent service. As on the Yonge line, power upgrades will be required as and when Bloor-Danforth receives substantially more service, but the scope of requirements is unknown.
The comparatively recent change in plans from procurement of a new Line 2 fleet to life extension of the existing trains leaves Bloor-Danforth with constraints on capacity growth for the next decade.
The Scarborough RT
The budget assumes that the RT will continue to operate until 2026 when the Line 2 Extension opens to STC. There will be an increase in service in 2021 when the program to rebuild the fleet completes and the one capital spare train (out of a fleet of 7) is released.
Line 4 Sheppard
There is no plan for any increased service on Line 4 in the capital plans.
The Relief Line and the Yonge North Extension
Although it is not mentioned in the Capital Budget or Plan, the Relief Line design assumes that its trains will be serviced from Greenwood Yard. This would have been possible because Line 2 would have a new fleet served from Kipling Yard.
However, with both the new fleet and yard for Line 2 deferred in the budget, it is not clear where a Relief Line fleet will actually live if that line is to open in, say, 2031.
Both the RL and the Line 1 extension share a problem in that their fleets will have to arrive in Toronto before they open for service, but the yards that would provide this capacity will not be available in time.
For all charts here, click on them for an expanded version. My apologies for the shading. Although these were originally prepared with coloured highlighting, the copies I have are black-and-white which lowers the contrast.
The overall need for more subway cars is summarized in the following introductory text to the fleet plan. However, the text claims that procurement of cars for extensions (Scarborough and Richmond Hill) are in a separate program when, in fact, the numbers are included in the fleet plans for Lines 1 and 2.
This leads to a table of planned orders for subway cars. Contrary to text in the table, the actual deployment of the trains is over half for expansion as explained below.
Planned Subway Car Orders
This chart shows the planned acquisition of two sets of trains. Seven would be bought in the mid-2020s for the Line 2 Extension (SSE), and 44 would be bought for Line 1 YUS from 2029-2033.
The SSE trains are explicitly noted above, and the Line 1 fleet plan (below) shows a jump of 20 trains for peak service from 2031 to 2032 corresponding to the Richmond Hill Extension. A further 4 trains would be required for 20% spares. Therefore 31 of the planned 51 trains are for expansion projects, not for ridership growth. This chart and associated text are misleading on that count.
From a budgeting and funding perspective this is an important distinction because new trains for ridership growth are funded as free-standing projects, while trains required for extensions are charged to those projects. If requirements are mis-characterized as part of normal growth, this could artificially lower the total cost of an extension, and also affect funding arrangements.
A key item missing from the fleet plan is a table of carhouse and yard capacities akin to what the TTC produces for its streetcar and bus depots. There is no way of knowing what capacity is available and planned, and how this relates to the number of trains that might, or might not, be acquired, nor to the concurrent existence of new and old fleets during transition periods.
Line 1 YUS
The Line 1 fleet plan shows a buildup of service every few years from 2021 to 2028 taking advantage of ATC to run more trains on the line. The peak service, not including gap trains rises from 61 in 2019 (the 65 shown above includes 4 gap trains), to 77 by 2029 (79 total minus 2 gap trains), a 26% increase. This corresponds to a reduction in the peak headway from 141 seconds to 112 seconds without any allowance for possibly faster trip times under ATC, and gets the line to its target service level for ATC in about a decade.
However, the TTC will run out of room for new trains in 2029 even before the buildup of service and fleet for the Richmond Hill extension. A further issue is that the deficit in storage capacity is larger than current plans for storage at Richmond Hill.
Even without the Richmond Hill extension, this plan is not workable for two reasons:
- The capital spares are reduced to zero in 2021 even though this corresponds to a build-up in the spares needed for the mid-life overhaul of the TR fleet (see table below).
- The fleet goes into deficit in 2026 requiring more trains (82), even without capital spares, than the TTC actually owns (76).
TR Overhaul Plan to 2028:
Line 2 BD
On several occasions during recent years, some members of the TTC Board asked when improved service was coming to Line 2 when all of the attention focused on Line 1. They were told that Automatic Train Control would bring more service by the mid-2020s.
They were misled because the TTC’s plans do not call for a significant change in BD service levels within the 15-year scope of this plan. Other than a few extra trains for service that will use up all spare capacity in the T1 fleet on Line 2, the only additional trains are those included with the extension to Scarborough in 2026.
The Life Extension Overhaul (LEO) of the T1 fleet was “approved” in 2018, although it is not clear when or how this happened as there is no public report associated with such a significant policy change. This extension and related changes in the timing of a new Kipling Yard and Maintenance Facility mean that the Line 2 fleet will not expand to provide shorter headways and greater capacity for the next decade.
The LEO project description below appears to be unchanged from what had been the text of the 25 Year Overhaul project into which the LEO has been combined. This does not appear to include a component for addition of ATC to the T1 fleet. This could be an editing error, but if so, it is a major one.
As for yard capacity, it is unclear where the additional trains for the Line 2 Extension will be stored or serviced pending the opening of that line. If they are TR-type unit trains, they cannot be maintained at Greenwood which is not configured to handle six-car permanently coupled sets. They could go to Wilson, but this will add operational complexity to Line 1’s service build up/down process which are already complex.
Greenwood itself is full as the following text makes quite clear.
Although the purchase of Kipling Yard is now in progress, there is no budget for detailed design and construction within the 2019-2028 Capital Budget. The 2019-2033 Capital Plan shows this yard opening in 2031 although it would almost certainly be needed sooner as a home for new trains as they are delivered.
Line 3 Scarborough RT
The SRT fleet overhaul will complete in 2021 after which the peak service will increase from five to six trains. The fleet will be retired following the opening for service of the Line 2 extension currently planned for 2026.
Line 4 Sheppard
No change in service or fleet levels is planned for this line in the foreseeable future. This line, with its oddball four-car TR units, has an unusually high spare ratio of 50% because it must be able to have one train out for maintenance, and one remaining as a hot spare.
The TTC Capital Budget is inconsistent in statements about when various projects might take place, and the real indication of plans is found in the annual budget projections.
The numbers here are taken from the Blue Books with the gross project costs before any adjustments for city-requested cuts. A large proportion of the spending here is not yet funded, and there will be a scramble to allocate whatever money is available to these projects and to politically sexier system expansion.
Of particular concern are large budget lines for capacity enhancement projects that have not yet been presented in detail publicly, and possibly not even to the TTC Board. After years of selling Automatic Train Control as the saviour of transit to the core area, the TTC has finally acknowledged that more passengers need more station space for access and circulation.